Have you read it yet?
JK Rowling has been prepared for the worst. In a rare interview with the Guardian she imagines readers of her first adult novel telling her ‘that’s shockingly bad- back to wizards for you’ – but she is fairly sanguine. Being a multi-millionaire with a well-loved character softens a lot of blows I should imagine.
I was as curious as anyone, and rather disappointed to read that the rumours that she’d written a crime novel weren’t true. Before we left on the school run, the door bell went and my fat copy (cheaper in print than as an e-book) was delivered, to tease me all day as I got on with all the other bits of the day that I couldn’t postpone.
I finally got to sit down with it at 9pm. By 11.30pm I’d finished, and being asked on Facebook chat whether I would recommend it. Would I? I’m honestly not sure. I’ve heard that other early reviews have been largely negative but I avoided reading them, wanting to get as unbiased a read as I could manage.
What if this had appeared on my slush-pile? Would I add myself to the long list of professional readers who turned JK Rowling down before her professional writing career had taken off? I think my response would have been to pass THE CASUAL VACANCY on to an agent with some caveats.
So what’s it about? Set in a village which has become a suburb of a larger sprawling town, the novel starts with the death of a charismatic friendly parish councillor, and the ensuing battle to gain his seat. The parish council are fighting about relocating their ‘trouble’ estate back into the town’s catchment, and whether to shut down an addiction centre which has limited success.
JK Rowling then proceeds to do pretty much everything I recommend authors don’t do. She head-hops furiously, with at least twenty different points of view. She tells the reader a lot that she could show them, making them work harder. She kills off characters (despite the lack of crime) with teenage abandon.
And does all that rule breaking work? I’m sorry to be so mealy-mouthed, but the answer seems to be – yes – in parts. Reading JK Rowling’s adult fiction has crystallised for me what her strengths are. She’s an accomplished story-teller, a weaver of strands of different but convincing events that mesh to give a satisfying picture.
Despite the fact her characters tend towards cliches (no surprises in the way any of them speak or behave) the polite antipathy of a small community is beautifully drawn. The claustrophobic reality of having your political enemy treat your embarrassing rash in their role as GP is horribly accurate.
Read it and enjoy it for what it is – an unravelling of a community all hiding their own secrets. And come back and tell me what you thought.
September 27, 2012